They say that laughter is the best medicine.
Laughing, chuckling, guffawing (my personal favorite), giggling, cackling (a close second), snickering—all of these are said to contain the healing properties of the ever-elusive magic bullet.
Even WebMD has an article on the medicinal properties of laughter.
But personally, I don’t like to think of laughter as a ‘medicine,’ because that presumes the presence of an ‘illness’.
Laughter is much more integral to my life than medicine.
To me, laughter is the organic food I eat to stay healthy rather than the medicine I take to heal. It’s the exercise I do to maintain fitness rather than the rehab I do after an injury. It’s the practice of prayer or meditation I do to stay connected rather than the therapeutic conversation I need after a breakdown.
Laughter is essential to my very being.
Because some days, you just need a good laugh.
I mean, pretty much every day, you need a good laugh.
So I present to you, the story of Simon Lee.
I hope it’s the daily dose of kale, crossfit, or catharsis you needed today.
In the spring of 2011, I was a young and inexperienced bond saleswoman on Wall Street.
I’m still young and inexperienced, but no longer a bond saleswoman on Wall Street.
Anyway, I had only been on the desk for a few months, when our annual conference came around. At that time, I was still covering another woman’s clients while she was on maternity leave, so I was at an even bigger disadvantage. It’s already difficult to convince a client to take 3 days off the desk to attend a stuffy conference.
It’s even harder when they don’t give a shit about meeting you.
But luckily for me, our conference had something else going for it that I thought could persuade even the laziest of traders to get off his ass and book a flight.
…was in Vegas.
I had never been to Vegas, so naturally, I was pumped.
I was also 23, so naturally, I was naïve about the impact that location would have on my clients.
Err, I mean, Cindy’s clients.
Because out of the 60 firms I was covering, each with about 3 to 5 traders, 1 to 2 portfolio managers, and a smattering of other analysts and support staff, you wanna know how many people showed up?
You guessed it…
One freakin’ guy from one freakin’ firm.
And his name was Simon Lee.
Simon had traveled to the event from San Francisco, which explained his willingness to attend a conference held in Vegas. He was the head trader and PM at a reasonably-sized hedge fund based in the Bay Area. He had a great track record of investments, a solid relationship with the bank, and a good reputation in the industry.
That’s about where his ‘generic-Wall-Street-guy’ description ended.
First of all, he was one of the most outspoken, unabashed, crazy people I had ever met. I found out through the grapevine that he was ‘that guy’ in meetings and on road shows who would ask an unrelenting amount of questions while others quietly laughed in the background.
Awkwardness was totally lost on him.
He was also the kind of guy who had no fear about approaching one of our senior executives and asking pointed questions about the bank’s financial situation.
To his face.
At the conference.
Expecting real answers.
He always wanted to know who, what, when, where, and why, and disregarded most social conventions in seeking those answers.
In short, this guy didn’t give a shit.
Social skills, be damned!
Now, none of this is all that out-of-the-ordinary if you’re imagining a quintessential, stereotypical Wall Street guy.
But Simon Lee was neither quintessential nor stereotypical.
Nothing about this guy fit the bill.
For starters, he was about 5 foot-nothing. He literally came up to my armpit when I was wearing heels, which was all weekend.
We made for the oddest of couples.
At the time, he was between 50 and 55-years-old. He had a grown family and a daughter about my age. But none of that stopped him from carrying a bottle of hot sake and a shot glass around the casino on our first night out.
Turns out, yes, you can carry around drinks, but even Vegas frowns on the stealing of glassware.
He was also, as you may have guessed, Chinese. Unfortunately, that made him stand out like a short, sore thumb in the sea of whiteness we had gathered at the conference. His accent made for a few interesting conversation mishaps throughout the weekend, but he was also friendly and patient with everyone we met.
Talk about big things in small packages…
So there I was, with one of the greatest personalities of all time, and all he wanted to know was:
So, what are we doing all weekend?
This is where I had totally and completely dropped the ball.
Never has anyone been accused of over-training the youth on Wall Street. It’s more of a sink or swim environment than an opportunity for hand-holding. That mentality extends all the way from your first model, to your first trade, to (you guessed it) your first conference.
So, of course, I was absolutely unprepared.
For everyone out there who is now lost, let me catch you up.
Traditionally, a salesperson plans and leads any and all social activities for his/her clients. For the day-to-day job, that includes things like lunches and dinners to discuss trade ideas or other pressing social matters like bonuses or who’s managed to blow themselves up since the last time you talked. I had assumed that since the conference had a set schedule, my job was done.
Turns out, I was supposed to be the social chair for the weekend.
Dinners on me. Clubs on me. Gambling on me.
Basically, fun, on me.
And I had planned…
In fact, we had negative plans.
If that’s possible.
But luckily for me, I had one of the best mentors who swooped in at my hour of need.
He saw my panic, and invited me and Simon to join him and his clients all weekend.
After all, it was just the two of us. How much trouble could we cause?
The weekend started out innocently enough, considering we were in Vegas and all. Conferences all day and dinners, drinks, and gambling at night. For the last meal of the weekend, my mentor had planned a large dinner at Blossom, a Chinese restaurant in the Aria hotel, that would serve as our farewell dinner.
On Blossom’s website, guests are invited to “sit down for a meal worth remembering.”
Well, I’ll tell you what.
This was a meal I will never forget.
Just to set the stage for you, this dinner was a true meeting of the minds.
My mentor was a Managing Director at the bank. His boss, the Head of High Yield Sales, was also at this dinner. His boss, who was the Head of Sales for the Americas, was also at this dinner. Each one was accompanied by his respective clients, so there were no less than 20 people in attendance.
And then there was me…
…and Simon Lee.
Blossom boasts that it serves “the triumphs of Chinese cuisine” by taking “the best of China’s culinary wisdom tailored for both the Western palate as well as authentic dishes.” Everything is served in small plates and placed on Lazy-Susans all around the table.
The website argues that Blossom’s “100-dish lineup spans every preference.”
I beg to differ.
Because there was one dish, just one dish out of the 100 available, that no one could get enough of.
This thing was going like hot cakes.
It might have even been hot cakes… I still don’t remember.
But what I do remember is that chop sticks could not get near this thing fast enough.
The minute the server set a new plate down, it was gone.
So there I was, minding my own business, trying to hold it all together amidst the titans, when another dish was set down…
Right. In front. Of me.
But if you know anything about Wall Street titans, you know that they are absolute vultures. So within seconds, I had arms coming in from every direction trying to poach what I now considered to be my food.
Unacceptable, but absolutely unavoidable.
Once the buzzards scattered and the dust cleared, there emerged one, glorious, preserved piece of food just ripe for the chopstick pickin’.
So I reached for it.
As my chopsticks are mid-air, in flies another hand. But this hand looks different than all the other hands. This hand is a Chinese hand. And this hand isn’t wielding chopsticks. This hand is flying toward my hand so fast, that I still don’t know what hit me.
Simon Lee literally slapped the chopsticks from my hand, and sent them flying across the Titan Table.
Naturally, they landed right in front of Cronus himself.
As everyone looked on, shocked, I turn to Simon with what can only be described as the Look of Death, and implore him as to why the hell that just happened.
Never have I seen a graver look on someone’s face.
It was like he was about to deliver the worst news of his life.
He just looked up at me and said these simple words, which are now burned into my brain for life:
Old Chinese proverb says…
Single woman who eats last piece of food…
NEVER GETS MARRIED.
Then, he picked up the last piece of food with his slap-hand, and popped it in his mouth.
Even his smirk seemed to say you’re welcome as though he had done me and my future spouse the greatest of favors.
And the worst part of the whole thing…
Is that I bought it!
Here I am, three years later, and I still don’t eat the last piece of food.
You can ask any one of my close friends if they have ever seen me finish a plate or eat the last item on a shared dish.
The answer will be no.
And I’m sure, he’s still here too, three years later, snaking food away from other unsuspecting young ladies who don’t want to ruin their chances at life-long happiness just because they want the last dumpling.
F-ing brilliant, this guy.
Now, every time I think back about Vegas, and Simon, and the slap-heard-round-the-table, I laugh. And I continue the tradition in his honor.
It’s my catharsis. My crossfit. My kale.
Even if I don’t get to eat it.
What story makes you laugh every time you think of it? To whom can you gift the daily dose of laughter in your life?
I believe that every greatness we enjoy right now can be traced back to one person, conversation, or observation that provided a turning point in our lives. I’d love to hear if you believe this, too.
Did this story resonate with you? Or did it make you think of a story of your own? Share your story or your reaction in the comments below.
Because sharing stories an instinctual, powerful way to touch the hearts of others and change the world around us.